Motherhood & Words

In preparation for my Writing Parenthood class last Saturday, I thought I should shift my gaze (at least for a few minutes) from motherhood literature to fatherhood literature. I designed Writing Parenthood, after all, because I had received a few (subdued) pleas that I include men in my Mother Words classes. But you see, I can’t do that. Stories by men about fatherhood don’t seem to be clumped together (and discarded) in the same way that women’s stories about motherhood routinely are. Men are often applauded for writing about parenthood, while women doing the same literary work are met with a shrug. So while there *is* quality writing out there about fatherhood, I generally do not read it, and I reserve Mother Words for mothers alone.

But then I had this class coming up, and I knew I needed to include some male voices, so I reviewed essays I’d read before (some of my favorites: Philip Lopate’s “Delivering Lily” and Scott Russell Sanders’ “Beauty”) and I went out and bought the new anthology The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhood, edited by Ben George, which is full of literary super-stars, writers like Charles Baxter, Richard Bausch, and Nick Flynn.

I adore Charles Baxter, as you know, so I read his essay, “The Chaos Machine,” first. It’s about Baxter’s trip to pick up his son, Daniel, at college, and woven in is the story of Baxter becoming a father, the insecurity and struggle of trying to navigate fatherhood without a role model. (His own father died when he was eighteen months old.) This essay contains everything that I love about Charles Baxter—wry sense of humor, self-deprecation, stellar characters—and Daniel himself has added footnotes, commenting on his father’s narration, making corrections when the elder Baxter takes liberties or goes astray. (You can read the very beginning of the essay here.) I loved it. And overall, this is a really wonderful collection of essays. (Seriously, Richard Bausch? What’s not to love?)

So I opened my arms to father writers, organized my thoughts, planned my class, and then, wouldn’t you know, I showed up on Saturday and THERE WERE NO MEN! I wasn’t terribly surprised, and really, it didn’t bother me. Convened was a wonderful group of mother writers—smart, thoughtful, interested women—and it was so fun to be a classroom again.

Because I’ve been teaching online so much lately, I had forgotten (well, almost) how energizing it is to share a physical space with a group of women interested in the same things. I love teaching online, as well, but I do miss the spark of a classroom. I miss watching people’s faces. I miss the back-and-forth, the way one question builds on another.

And despite the fact there were no fathers in the class, I’m glad I read The Book of Dads. It would make the perfect gift for the literary dads in your life.


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Sally on July 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I attended a reading last night from A Cup of Comfort For Parents of Special Needs Cchildren. I'm generally not a fan of this type of book, but istening to 4 of the moms read their own stories was very powerful. The book is 50 separate stories of differnt children but it is arranged so that the stories are told as the kids age. I am a friend of a friend of one of the contributers. It made me think of you and your classes.

  2. Mary on July 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Oh how I wish I was Minneapolis — I'd sign up for one of your "classroom classes" in a second. While I love the online, I find myself wanting to be in a ROOM with everyone. Thanks for the heads about The Book of Dads. Seems like a great gift for so many people I know, and myself as well.

  3. Elizabeth on July 16, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Thanks for the heads-up — I actually love reading Dad blogs and essays — although I'm probably guilty of the double standard, there's something so sexy about a blogging/writing father who is funny, above all.

  4. cath c on July 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

    while literary dads can be cool, i am secretly pleased only moms showed up for exactly the reason you mentioned: we're summarily dismissed far too often.

    now bear in mind, two of my oldest and dearest friends are literary guys.

  5. Violeta on July 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I've been looking at more dad writing recently, too. And would you believe I've had The Book of Dads on my Amazon wishlist for a month or so? I think I'm going to have to go ahead and get it now!

  6. Erika D. on July 17, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Hi, Kate. I'm happy to have found your blog. If you are looking for stories as well as essays, you might take a look at Michael Chabon's "Along the Frontage Road," which was published in The New Yorker in 2001 (and was, I believe, included subsequently in Best American Short Stories).